Two elephants, separated for 20 years, were reunited at an elephant sanctuary, and their joy in being together again is unmistakable.
The elephant handler’s emotional farewell to his charge is something anyone who has had to let go of an animal can relate to – we grieve our loss while embracing the knowledge that we have done what is right for another being. Whether it is releasing something once caged to the wild, or having to put our companion animals to sleep, we understand that there comes a point when holding on is not in the best interest of these beings who share our lives.
Remarkably similar to elephants in many ways, killer whales in captivity spend their lives endlessly performing repetitive tricks for our amusement, and similarly deserve retirement – yet they must perform until the day they die.
One particular whale has lived for decades with no companion of her own species in a tiny pool. The name given to her by the Miami Seaquarium where she lives is “Lolita”, the performing circus whale. Would she too recognize her family if reunited with them? Ken Balcomb of The Center for Whale Research believes so, and in any case he feels that it is an important question to explore.
It must be hard for the family who believe they own the whale to consider giving her up, but they might be surprised to discover that doing so may be one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives. We really don’t know how deeply captive whales and dolphins bond with the people who care for them, but if it is similar to elephants and other wild animals, then there is a good chance that Lolita would remember those who treated her kindly if she were retired.
Was the following a coincidence? We still know so little about animal perceptions that it is impossible to say with certainty, but it is remarkable:
Saying Goodbye: Elephants Hold Apparent Vigil To Mourn Their Human Friend
Lawrence Anthony was a conservationist and author known as “The Elephant Whisperer” who passed away on March 2nd, 2012. In 1999, Anthony rescued and rehabilitated a group of wild South African elephants who were deemed dangerous. And the animals appear to remember what he did for them: when Anthony passed away, a group of elephants visited his house in the South African KwaZulu for a two-day vigil, according to his family.
When Anthony died of a heart attack, the elephants, who were grazing miles away in different parts of the park, travelled over 12 hours to reach his house. According to his son Jason, both herds arrived shortly after Anthony’s death. They hadn’t visited the compound where Anthony lived for a year and a half, but Jason says “in coming up there on that day of all days, we certainly believe that they had sensed it”.
We will never know how a retired orca will react until we try, but we owe to the whales, and to ourselves, to try. Urge NMFS To Rectify Exclusion of Lolita from the ESA and bring Lolita home!